Book reviews

Driftwood 2023 Anthology
ISBN-13: 978-1-949065-23-7
Driftwood Press 7 March 2023

This multi-genre anthology is structured in a way that provides artwork first, then the story or poem, followed by wide-ranging interviews with the authors. Comics make up the last segment of the book. Not only do you get to sample some great writing but you get a behind-the-scenes look at what the authors tried to achieve with their piece in a discussion of their craft.

My favourite stories were the opening story Twin Sisters, Tank and of course the excerpt of Bark On by Mason Boyles. Twin Sisters, winner of Driftwood’s 2022 In-House Contest, is a masterful compression of a tale about two sisters, one of whom lures a German soldier out of a bar to his death. Michael Hugh Steward lists disparate influences which, when agitating in a highly creative mind, led to the conception and writing of this story which encompasses research and something as mundane as whacking a piece of chicken with a frying pan. As a short story writer I was intrigued by Steward’s description of “averted vision”:
Averted vision is a practice in astronomy. If you spend a lot of time looking up at the stars, you’ve probably noticed that some cannot be seen if you look directly at them. You have to shift your sight, and look a bit off target, so the photo-receptors that work best in dim light, the rods, take over. (4)
I love the idea that the only way to see something is to not look directly at it. Incorporated in writing it could result in interesting fiction as demonstrated in Steward’s magnificent story.

Tank is a finely nuanced take on one of the topics highlighted in the #Metoo movement, that of the victim being unsure if a sexual experience was indeed an assault. Jenna Abrams’ protagonist T is in turmoil because her boyfriend, Nate, describes a sexual encounter in a dark tunnel as “hot” and “spontaneous”. T, as most young girls that age, is not very confident (like her friend Darby) and struggles to decipher what really happened and if Nate cares about her.

By using the letter T, an anonymous name for the protagonist, Abrams succeeds in relating the story to every woman who has been gaslighted by a predatory man eager to hide his transgression to protect his reputation. The T also relates to the title and the theme of a sensory deprivation tank in the story which Abrams describes as “trying to express being numbed from yourself so powerfully it becomes physical … the borders between our bodies and the world, and how intense an unwanted violation of those borders is” (125).

I was gratified to see the excerpt from Bar On as I’d enjoyed it when reviewing the book a while ago. This piece appears early in the book, introducing the character of Casper who has a distinctive voice. Casper is an orphan co-opted by the trainer Benji to become a running partner for the hapless Ezra. In the discussion about his writing influences Boyles says “Michelle Latiolais taught me that enough force can trump anything” (163).

The first poem ‘Abgdhwzarian’ by Bazeed Luke Burton has such long lines that it fits on a landscape page. Bazeed describes it: “The abgdhwzarian is a modified form created by the poet as a reclamation of the more common abecedarian. The abgdhwzarian returns the abecedarian closer to its semitic roots, by replacing the spine of its Latin alphabet with Arabic” (169). Arabic letters and phrases are integrated into the text which is explained in the glossary. The poem starts with a striking image of an Arabian horse dancing to drums at a wedding.

‘Riddance Pander’ by Margaret Yapp is also visually arresting. The poem sits like a hinge on the right side of the page. She describes her poems as “glacial erratics” – when a glacier moves, rocks are left behind. Placed next to another poem (a hinge on the left side of the page) it forms a square.

Fair weather Friend by Kimball Anderson is a story told with hand-drawn images. Kimball says in the interview that it is about debilitating, chronic illness. The artwork was achieved by pencil and paper with “a layer effect put over it digitally” (256). This is followed by a few more comics.

Overall this is a brave, thoughtful anthology that teaches as it entertains and
features the work of Michael Hugh Stewart, Johanna Povirk-Znoy, Vincent Panella, Izzy Buck, Rebecca Starks, Victor McConnell, Jenna Abrams, Marcie Roman, Mason Boyles, Bazeed, Luke Burton, Kimberly Sailor, Margaret Yapp, Bader Al Awadhi, Shaoni White, Anthony Immergluck, Robert Laidler, Derek Annis, Caroline Harper New, Sarah Levine, Robin Walter, Ana Prundaru, Qiyue Zhang, Kimball Anderson, Yaronn Regev, Dave Youkovich, Stefanie Jordan, Ben Montague, and Olivia Sullivan.

You can buy a copy here

Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 by B. Lynn Goodwin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

B. Lynn Goodwin’s memoir Never too late: From wannabe to wife at 62, published by Köehler Books, is set in contemporary America. It tells the inspirational story of Lynn, an independent professional woman, who finds love late in life and has to wrestle with her fears and her expectations fuelled by modern media.
Lynn is a writer and editor. She lives with her dog Mikko McPuppers in a condo in Danville. After a few uneventful relationships she meets Richard on Craigslist. What follows is a searingly honest tale of overcoming their differences in outlook (he believes that a man should be the head of the household and she wants an equal partnership), education, financial security and experience, he has been married twice and she is a virgin.
In first person past tense the story is told through Lynn’s engaging perspective. I enjoyed her sense of humor as she navigates the perilous line ‘part servant part independent woman’ of an intimate relationship with a religious, traditional man.
What comes across is that in order to be a couple, a man and a woman has to learn to negotiate and be willing to compromise. That’s leads to growth as Lynn learns to trust Richard in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
There is a section at the back of the book with helpful advice and suggestions on where to look for those over-fifties still yearning for love.

Asleep Awake Asleep: Stories by Jo-Ann Bekker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jo-Ann Bekker’s stories are carefully crafted. They take you on a journey into our recent history and into the personal. The writing is taut, nimble, a joy to read.

My favourite ones are the very short flash fiction pieces like Displays, Candlelit and Profile, and the micro fiction grouped together in Alphabetically, reminiscent of Lydia Davis.

Divided into six sections: a prologue, epilogue and nine stories grouped together thematically, the stories deal with modern life at the southern tip of Africa. Throughout runs an empathetic awareness of the ‘other’.

First person, second person and third person stories populate a collection that is a worthy read. I recommend you take the plunge.

Seasons Defined by Khaya Ronkainen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Khaya Ronkainen‘s book of nature poetry follows the seasons, from spring to winter in 16 beautiful poems. The dedication captures her realization that “love defines all seasons”.

Originally from Umtata, South Africa, her poetry deals mostly with a northern landscape (she lives in Finland). In an interview on the blog ‘How my heart speaks’ she names her influences as the Xhosa poets, S.E.K. Mqhayi and Tiyo Soga, elaborating that “Chanting of clan praises is poetry itself; oral poetry that overlaps with a song. Thus, in my writing I’m always trying to emulate that rhythm and harmony.”

I look forward to reading more of her poetry

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